‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ re-imagines while paying homage

ozThe joy of seeing the land of Oz on the silver screen is absolutely incredible. Most people who see this new prequel are too young to have seen “Wizard of Oz” in theaters back in 1939, but that doesn’t diminish the wonder of it.

Oz (James Franco, “Lovelace”) is a magician with a traveling circus in Kansas. He is also a con man who doesn’t appreciate his closest companions and would rather be great and influential than good-hearted. After an incident that causes him to flee the circus, his balloon is swept up in a tornado, and when he lands, he finds himself in a magical land in need. There is a prophecy in the land saying a great and powerful wizard bearing the name of their land will save them and restore the peace that was shattered when an evil witch poisoned their king.

Eventually, Oz must decide whether it truly is better to be a great man or a good one.

Anyone who’s seen “Wizard of Oz” knows what should happen in this movie. But somehow, the story still manages to keep the audience guessing how he will arrive to that conclusion. This is actually the source of some grief.

In the Emerald City, there are two sisters watching over the throne, Theodora (Mila Kunis, “Ted”) and Evanora (Rachel Weisz, “The Bourne Legacy”). Their characters are well defined when the audience is introduced to them. It’s easy to think they are understandable and guess what should happen because of their personalities. This is thrown completely to the wind, and the opposite happens. While the plot surprises the audience, it isn’t in character, and it ultimately feels wrong.

Kids won’t notice this, however — nor will they pick up on the horribly rushed attraction that one of the witch sisters feels for Oz. The movie feels like it is definitely geared for a younger age group but includes a few choice metaphors for adults.

Then there’s Glinda (Michelle Williams, “My Week with Marilyn”) who is exactly what the movie needs to appeal to adults. Unlike most people, she sees through Oz, but still acknowledges that he’s all she has. She doesn’t have blind faith in him, but sill knows that with the right encouragement he can be the wizard the land needs. As a witch she both knows what to do but is uncertain of her own abilities. She and Oz are both a bit complicated, and it’s refreshing to see on screen.

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Disney, not having the rights to things invented for the original “Wizard of Oz” movie — such as the ruby slippers and Glinda being the witch of the north — uses references that remain closer to what is established in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” written in 1900 by L. Frank Baum. Those who have read the book will delight in the many nods Disney gives it.

Possibly one of Disney’s best choices was to pay homage to the classic Oz movie by shooting the beginning, which takes place in Kansas, in black and white. It was also shot in Academy ratio, which is a classic standard film dimension used in the early 1900s. When Oz’s balloon makes it to the Land of Oz, breathtaking colors seep into the screen as the square film ratio stretches horizontally to reveal the widescreen dimensions modern moviegoers are used to. It flows from old to new in two ways, lending a 21st century twist that adds that same sense of awe felt by audiences when Dorothy first stepped out of her ruined house and found herself in a Technicolor world.

“Oz” may alienate adults a little with its simplicity at times, but overall the movie is enjoyable. If you’re a fan of the original movie or book, it’s worth checking out.

Movie: “Oz the Great and Powerful”

Release Date: March 8, 2013

Director: Sam Raimi

Starring: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis

Rating: 3